Failure: Is It Friend Or Foe ?

What’s Your Relationship To The 'F' Word?

Three ways to embrace failure and grow

Ever woken up in the night in a cold panic, thoughts racing about what you have to achieve and all the hurdles that you have to jump? Anxiously shuffling under the sheets with a head full of ‘what if’s? Or do you envy others who seem to be able to ask for anything — they just have that confidence that says “Why not me?”. I’ve certainly spent many a night staring at the ceiling, or looked on with envy as someone had that seemingly carefree attitude that said “I can!”. This stumped me and held me frozen… until I began to embrace failure not as a fatalistic ending but as a means of growth and opportunity.

Many of us have had sky high expectations placed upon us from an early age, whether from parental figures, school, college or in competitive workplaces. Looking at ourselves globally, especially in western society, we exist in a time of ever greater demands to ‘succeed’ both personally and professionally. With social media providing an outlet for self flagellation and skewed comparison, it’s no wonder we hold onto those carefully crafted facades of perfection tighter than ever. This often swamps us and stifles our creativity and halts innovation. Below are three ways to allow yourself and your team, space and encouragement to really take risks.

1. Not all heroes wear success well — how did your idols fail?

Anyone who’s ever achieved anything of note has had to climb a number of mountains before they reached the peak. However that beige coloured daily grind to get to the summit, isn’t the sexy rags to riches stuff we see in the media. Who do you admire personally or professionally? If you really dig into their back story, you may find that their road wasn’t entirely easy, that they themselves will have had to fight the bitter bite of failure’s fangs. What separates them from those who didn’t make it, is their relationship to those setbacks “The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure.” (John Maxwell, ‘Failing Forward — Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success’, Thomas Nelson 2000). Like many things in life, it is all about perspective and how you allow it to be a part of your own narrative.

One of my personal favourites, comedy actor Jane Lynch (Glee, 40-Year-Old Virgin, Best In Show) had a whole host of setbacks and failures, but never gave up. She held on and kept trying something a little different with tweaks here and there until the fit was right and her career took off.

2. Set yourself up to fail — offer the fear a cup of tea

When people are afraid of spiders to the point that they would rather jump from a balcony than be within 10 feet of one, they are often treated with immersion therapy. This is a type of exposure therapy that uses gradations of prolonged exposure, gradually desensitising the individual to the source of their panic. This is no different with the fear of failure. In Jia Jiang’s hilariously relatable TED talk here, he describes how fear a of failure was imprinted on him early on, limiting him and how he eventually broke that cycle.

Jia used Canadian entrepreneur, Jason Comely’s game of building up the rejection muscle, known as Rejection therapy. Like anything, it is something that you can increase and develop over time and in doing so realise your potential and that of a idea or project.

For example, give yourself three tasks that you almost certainly know will be met by a resounding “No!” and go ahead and ask anyway. The floor will not give way, you will not dissolve and your skin will be that little bit thicker – in a good way.

3. It ain’t you, babe — learn not to take take it personally

Just as when we are not offered an interview or when we are left for someone who likes Handel when we dig Hanson… it’s rarely about us. I mean, it is somewhat about us, but not the core value of who we are as a person. Sometimes things are just the wrong fit or the wrong timing. When we fail, it doesn’t mean we didn’t work hard or that we are useless and will never amount to anything. Quite the opposite, you can never fail if you don’t dare to dream or take chances that may result in innovation. Even when it all comes crashing down around your ears, you are still the same human being who is loved and appreciated by friends and family. You are valid and you are still seen.

To a degree, we have some control over the narrative of our life stories. So rather than this chapter being consigned as hellish moment of inadequacy, why not entitle it ‘a moment of brave self discovery’ and discern the lessons you can from it. It’s just a thing that happened and things can happen on a daily basis and you have moved through many more before. Rebrand it… if it’s hard for your global audience to pronounce Jif, then change it to Cif and give yourself a fancy new font to boot ! In other words, change your associations.

Francesca Reid is an Applied Theatre and Improvisation practitioner and performer based in London. Francesca’s company The Offer Bank will help your team become more confident, creative and collaborative here. Click here for her performance related website.